By Jenny Quilty
(competitive ultra runner, coach, race director, and occupational therapist)
Yikes, sometimes writing out my job titles makes me nervous. As I add commas between the list I wonder does this look unobtainable, or the voice inside my head whispers, do people think I have too much going on to be good at any of it, or that I must be some wild, sleep deprived over achiever? I might be a little wild with big goals, but certainly not after 8:00 pm.
Whether you carry one title, or 10, we all have our ways of finding this so-called balance and this entire post comes with the asterisk that you don’t have to fit one mold to be ‘doing it right’. There isn’t one simple template that makes life just magically work. What often works is taking small steps and allowing yourself the space to think about what you need and want, then working towards that, (big breath) while magically remaining self compassionate when the beautiful plan hits the fan. Let’s dive in.
Through my years as an OT and coach I find many conversations start by addressing the logical plan first. This can be as simple as using a day timer, paper or phone based agenda (truly I recommend starting on paper and when practiced can progress to a phone calendar), or blank sheet of paper to write out your day. I don’t mean your to-do list, but actually assigning times to do the things like eat, run, shower, and the many other things we do as humans. Why? Because when we write out the elements of being human, like eating meals or snacks, we start to set these small acts of self care as priorities. How many athletes, professionals, moms, ..humans, miss meals because something else popped up or they forgot and all of a sudden it’s 10 pm? I can assure you, you’re not alone here.
When you can, prioritize sleep. When you can’t, try not to fret and look ahead to when you might be able to catch up on it a little more. There are so many recovery tools and devices, but sleep is the one most highly evidence based recovery tool for our weird and wonderful human bodies. Sleep matters in both duration and quality. There are some great checklists online for sleep strategies and tips and I recommend diving into one of these if you want to try and address issues with sleep! If you just aren’t getting to bed on time, start by picking a goal time to be getting ready for bed and work from there. We often say things like, I’d like to be asleep by 10, only to find ourselves getting ready at or after this time. Work backwards in your plan for the day and see if you can set a time 20-30 min before you’d like to be asleep to start getting ready. Follow the same routine each day and have it be enjoyable, maybe including dimming the lights in your house, having relaxing music on, or enjoying a non caffeinated tea.
When there seems to be a lot going on, set your priorities. At the start of the week, map out where your most meaningful activities are going to go and start to treat these as non-negotiables. These could be your runs, a date night with your partner, or a weekly bath where you close the door and are not interrupted. But HOW? We all know the scenarios, you plan a run after work on Tuesday, but then someone asks you to swing by and help with something. Get ready...you do this magical thing that somewhere along the life journey becomes really hard for some of us, you decline (read say: say no). When getting used to following a plan that includes doing things for yourself you may be most comfortable starting off by offering another time that works for you. Remember, you do not have to be at some other appointment in order to be unavailable. Back to self-compassion for a moment, when scheduling your own activities into the week you do not have to go from 0-100 or be rigid and inflexible every time. You want to set up the schedule that you are happy with and when other things come up, consciously decide if you want to alter your plans. You decide, and if you do decide to be flexible and that suits you best - that is just as great!
These maybe aren't the typical organizational tips like how to keep your running and gear closest tidy, that one still perplexes me, but more of general life approaches where you can begin or reset your ways of caring for yourself on a weekly basis. Hopefully, with practice these ways of prioritizing your goals and self care begin to take on bigger bits of each day. I’ll caution you that they may also build up an unstoppable excitement towards big goals and dreams! Try these approaches out, hit pause when you need to, breathe deeply, and get excited for the planned, the unplanned, and the unimaginable parts of life!
Here is your recap of tips and tricks!
- Start small by organizing your time. Often best done before the week starts (Sunday evening for many people), write out notes for each day starting with the skeleton of wake time, bedtime, meal time, and scheduled events. Track what is getting done and isn’t and use that to see where you may need to adjust expectations (done through self compassion that more is not always more!).
- Prioritize sleep - it is your reset and the original & most scientifically proven recovery tool. If getting to sleep is difficult try using an app like Insight Timer to use a guided relaxation to fall asleep and get out of your own head, keep a notepad by your bed and jot down the to do items that pop up. If staying asleep is challenging, try the same techniques and if you’re lying awake for 15-20+ mins, get up, grab a sip of water, and reset.
- Write out your priorities for the week within your schedule or elsewhere, and remember what you are flexible in and what you are not. It is ok (better yet, it is healthy and useful) to set boundaries as to how you spend your time, and it is important to take care of yourself so you can show up for everything else when you need to. This can be uncomfortable at first. Start by thinking of what you would tell your best friend or loved one to do and then live that example and remember you do not have to ‘earn’ leisure, exercise or self care time.
Please comment, often some of the best tips and tricks come from the collective brainstorming with others!